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Gov.-elect Rick Scott's 'outsider' role shaping his transition in Tallahassee

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's new governor has yet to name a single person to his administrative team, four weeks after the election.

Instead, Rick Scott has spent much of the past month traveling the country in his new head-of-state status and naming 189 advisers to his transition team.

He has yet to pick his chief of staff or name the heads of any of Florida's nearly 30 state agencies under his control, including those that oversee Florida's 102,000 prison inmates, 582,000 elementary school students or 2.5 million people on food stamps.

In stark contrast, Ohio's newly elected Republican governor, John Kasich — who won on a jobs platform similar to Scott's — has named five people to his new administration.

By this time 12 years ago, newly elected Gov. Jeb Bush had selected secretaries of labor, health and children and families, named a chief of staff, a legislative affairs director, and a communications secretary. And four years ago, Gov. Charlie Crist had named his chief of staff and was distributing daily agendas of his transition team schedule.

Scott's longtime lawyer and confidante, Enu Mainigi, is controlling much of the selection process, searching for new hires with corporate experience. She said Friday that the first significant appointments could still be weeks away.

Mainigi defends the process as deliberate and said some positions may remain open or be filled with temporary directors until after the Jan. 4 inauguration.

"A few weeks here and there isn't going to make a difference," Mainigi said. "We want to have the right people in place and are not going to make appointments for the sake of making appointments."

The list of appointments, however, will only grow after the first of the year, when the terms of nearly 300 appointed positions — from the state Board of Education to mosquito-control districts — expire.

Mainigi acknowledged the job of finding appointments to head the state's top agencies has been a "challenge."

To find private-sector applicants, Scott hired New York-based Gerson Group. But attracting business executives or attorneys willing to giving up their private-sector salaries for a government job in out-of-the-way Tallahassee is a hard sell, Mainigi said.

"I wish there were more direct flights," Mainigi said of travel in and out of the state capital.

Scott has promised a more efficient state government and has assembled 18 different advisory committees, but he relies most on Mainigi and two or three others with no Tallahassee experience.

The committee members, beyond the top-level Transition Advisory Committee, have had little contact with Scott's staff beyond introductory conference calls when they were briefed on state public records laws, given a code of ethics to sign, and asked to pay for their own travel to and from Tallahassee.

"There are a lot of moving parts here," said former state Sen. Carey Baker, using a phrase repeated by several transition team members.

Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, one of the few Democrats advising Scott, said he travels to Fort Lauderdale every Wednesday for an hour-and-a-half long meeting with the 11 other top advisers. The discussions are "ideological, not quite at the pragmatic level yet," he said.

They have yet to discuss any job applicants. "Right now they're mostly briefing us," Ferre said. He noted that most of the other members of the committee — former Bush Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings and outgoing U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, and two former Bush staffers, Sally Bradshaw and Kathleen Shanahan — are longtime Tallahassee insiders and were supporters of Scott's primary opponent, Bill McCollum.

Scott, who was elected as "a complete outsider," is relying on staff with fewer relationships in the political world than governors before him, Ferre said. Mainigi "is unquestionably the leader," he said.

"This is the Rick Scott show. This is not the Republican Party of Florida show," he said.

Scott, like Kasich, has spent much of the first four weeks since his election on the road, attending Republican Governors Association meetings in San Diego, the National Governors Association conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., visiting with the congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and meeting with President Barack Obama.

Scott has also taken advantage of his newfound celebrity by appearing Thursday on CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and Friday on Bloomberg TV.

Building an administration from scratch in just 60 days is "one of the most difficult jobs I ever had because of the complexity of the work that has to be done in a 60-day period," said LeMieux, who ran Crist's transition in 2006 and later served as his first chief of staff. "You have to transition the leadership of a $70 billion enterprise."

Most agency secretaries won't be retained, but some have asked to stay on, such as Walt McNeil at Corrections, Frank Peterman (Juvenile Justice), Jim DeBeaugrine (Agency for Persons with Disabilities) and Cynthia Lorenzo (Agency for Workforce Innovation).

"We're finding good people," Scott said this week. "There's a lot of good people who want to serve the state and are not doing it because they want to make the most money. They're doing it because they want to be part of improving this country and improving this state."

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.

Gov.-elect Rick Scott's 'outsider' role shaping his transition in Tallahassee 12/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 3, 2010 11:02pm]
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